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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Alice in Wonderland II -- chapter 1: ALL IN A GOLDEN AFTERNOON

  1. Carroll is endlessly crafty.  What hidden references to the Liddell sisters ("Liddell" pronounced with first-syllable emphasis) do you find in the poem?  (Of the three girls mentioned in the opening poem, which is a fair account of the story's genesis on July 4, allegedly, Prima, Secunda, and Tertia, the second is Alice.)  Additionally, and I expect some of his metaphysical humor rubbed of on his friends, it is the girls who claimed, and rightfully so, "It is next time!"  Isn't it always "next time"?
  2. Alice was Carroll's favorite.  I believe it's fair to say the preference came from a mutual affinity in personality: "...what is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?" seems to indicate Carroll's preference, especially as such a preference is justified across these and his other fantastical works.
  3. The fantasy of Alice reaches beyond the rabbit hole.  How so, and to what significance (I'm thinking of this as further indication of traits and preferences of Carroll, rather than Alice)?
  4. Perhaps surprisingly, death is a frequent visitor in Alice, and generally in the form of very dark humor.  Can you spot any in this first chapter (I've got 2)?  More importantly, and generally skipped, why the death jokes at all?
  5. Remember the cat, Dinah (one of two cats of the Liddells'), and her kittens for later.
  6. The garden through the little door (with the possible addition of the key) is, as far as I'm concerned, one of the most important metaphors in the book.  T.S. Eliot interpreted the garden as "a metaphor for events that might have been, had one opened certain doors" (The Annotated Alice, p16, note7).  I have reason to believe, which I will be expound upon when we read Looking Glass (particularly in the forest with no names) that this is more of an allusion to Eden; though in this case, I think the two interpretations are easily reconciled.  Thoughts?
  7. "Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible."  This, in context of the garden, I think, is a very optimistic statement.  But what are the implications that the impossible--and this particular impossibility regarding the garden--is only superable in Wonderland (apply also to #3)?
  8. WARNING: potential over-analysis -- Here is the first moment when I believe Carroll makes a personal appearance (the first of many) in the setting of the story, unbeknownst to Alice; these events evince a sort of meta-story only ever apparent (though never fully realized) between the lines.  This appearance (though can it be an "appearance" if we, whose eyes are Alice's eyes, don't "see" him?)  is particularly anonymous, and demonstrates a keen understanding of children and their attentions.  For many children, there is essentially nothing beyond their immediate focus.  The world could crumble and, if they were adequately drawn to another point, they would not notice.  So, then, where does the bottle come from and why?  How might, if at all (highly speculative, but I feel justified by my general understanding of the books), this relate to the garden?
  9. "Nice little stories."
  10. There are 12 changes of physical size that Alice undergoes throughout the books.  Is there something deeper than the fantasy of it?  Consider Alice Liddell's age and all the problems that go with it, at least as far as Carroll's concerned.
  11. The fact that Alice still cannot get into the garden despite her new size indicates...  what?  Is there any way for her to control her circumstances, or is her impotence due solely to her mistake (see also #3 and #8)?
  12. "...going out altogether, like a candle."
  13. Alice :: Alas -- a pun?
  14. (For future reference: Though I haven't yet read Finnegan's Wake, allegedly he alludes frequently to Alice.)
  15. Is it Alice or Carroll who likes to be two people at once--or both, i.e. in the case of the book Alice and Carroll may arguably be the same person inasmuch as twins or even reflections are the same (consider also this appearance ALICE LIDDELL :: LEWIS CARROLL)?  (Doubles are another important series of allusions, like the death jokes, the garden, etcetera.)

In defense of apparent "reading-too-much-into-it": The definable layers in Carroll's writing--jokes, allusions, puzzles, etcetera--are all fine precedent to support the possibility of other more deeply speculative bits.


  1. 1. Based on the most revealing stanza, I think that the eldest sister is somewhat bossy, Alice is a dreamer, and the third one is easily distracted. What's interesting, though, is that this is obviously Carroll's account of events. Everything is so idealized that it's hard to tell fact from fiction. And yeah, I think you're spot on with, "next time."
    3. I think that the larger fantasy of this book is the purity of childhood. Unlike many authors, Carroll's acknowledges the darkness and confusion that can attend childhood, but he still idealizes it. Sitting under a tree on a summer day with a book and being bored doesn't really sound so bad, especially when an adventure such as Wonderland arrives.
    4. I may be missing one or two since I haven't checked, but I remember her comment about fearing to drop the jar because she might kill a creature. It stuck out like a sore thumb. Oh, and then there was the part about going out like a candle. It's a great question. Perhaps Carroll is suggesting that children have more of an understanding of human mortality than adults think that they do.
    6. I think that the garden is childhood, and the door may be growing up or time. Many of us, including Carroll, I think, would love to enter the garden or go back to our childhood, but we're now too big and can't fit through the door.
    7. The way that he phrases this is odd. "Very few things were really impossible." I think that the adverb is the key word. You could take it to mean, "truthfully," but at the same time, "very," (which I know comes from the same root), but you get the idea. If you read it as, "Few things were very impossible," it takes away the absoluteness of impossible, and puts everything on a relative scale. In other words, things aren't actually impossible; they just have varying degrees of difficulty.
    8. The way that I understand it, the bottle appears because she imagines that she needs one, and she's in Wonderland. I don't know if you've ever had dreams like this, but I have, usually when someone's trying to kill me, as most of my dreams are, and I need something, the thing will miraculously appear without ever knowing how it got there.
    10. Hmm... that's a really interesting perspective about the size being a reflection of that awkward age in childhood/adolescence. I had always thought of it as a reflection of the impossibilities made possible, and I think it is, but there's also the level that you are seeing. Especially when she begins to cry as a result of the changes. You just imagine her as someone very confused by the changes.
    11. I think that it's a mistake that she has to make to illustrate further that anything's possible and that she still has some agency over her situation. The mistake comes from doing it incorrectly, from which she can learn, not some sort of ultimate impotence.
    13. I would say not to put it past him.
    15. I think that there's a lot of Carroll in this book. For example, the arguments back and forth inside her head. I imagine that he is someone that does this a lot.

    By the way, I don't think that you're over-reading this at all. It's like if James Joyce were to try to write a game for kids in terms of little puzzles and games. It is still enough to keep adults occupied for a lifetime.

  2. I believe Carroll is a major character, even, though unwittingly, potentially an antagonist. His over-attention to the girl he's writing about might even be pushing her away. This element of Carroll's literal presence in the story (and he shows up "visibly" in Looking Glass) changes and deepens a lot of the trope interpretations. I believe the book is not a dream and I don't believe the Alice has any unwitting, subconscious power over her surroundings. The main reason I feel this way is for Carroll's relationship with her and his more literal appearances later. On that wise, I'm going to take your thought about the garden a step further (still Edenic, as it was a place are potentially infinite childhood) and say that Carroll is in the garden. He is not living vicariously through Alice. He is both Alice as she is and Alice as he wishes she were, projecting a lot of his desires and inclinations over who she really was, yet the real Alice still shines through somehow.

    1. There’s more word play—puns (they’re everywhere!) —at work here, in the English speaker’s laziness in pronouncing “Little.”

    3. Two things: Carroll lives in his own fantasy, which he prefers to real life; also, the fantasy literally springs from the hole as the White Rabbit is able to exist beyond it, as if Wonderland as consciously reached out to target her and draw her in. Again, Carroll’s influence as a writer, but within the realm of narrative, perhaps even literally targeting her, as no else is affected by the event.

    4. Interesting that the jar would not have “fallen” had she dropped. Carroll certainly knew this.

    7. I really like your approach here. If the garden is literally and forever unreachable, as the stories indicate, and if the impossible is possible in Wonderland, then WHY CAN’T the garden be reached? I believe it’s another statement on childhood generally: sometimes, no matter what, you just don’t get what you want. Deeper, though, and back to the garden thoughts from earlier, the impossibility of Alice’s gaining the place indicates the permanent and unbreachable wall between the two back in reality.

    8. If you don’t believe it yet, indulge me on this one; it will become more evidently possible as we continue through the text. This is one of the biggest things I’m searching for on this reading—a further and more substantial connection to the meta-story of Carroll + Alice.

    10. Alice has as little control over her growth (up or down) as a child does just growing up, and often with as much surprise (and I can’t claim this thought as original—that her growth in the story indicates childhood and adolescent growth). Interesting, though, that later, with practice and careful measure, she IS able to control her growth somewhat, though only with gifts provided her by Wonderland’s deity and Alice’s benefactor: Carroll.

    11. I like where you’re going with this one as well, particularly in view of my previous response. If there is this meta-story I’m aiming for, Carroll is not omnipotent—he does not have absolute control over Wonderland, because he does not have absolute control over his own life. Just as in childhood, there are some things that he just can’t manipulate, even within the world of his own creation. The poor man is tortured by it! No matter what he does or places before Alice, she still has her freedom to choose what she will.

    15. I expect that one side of the argument is Alice and the other is Carroll.

    Finally, while the book was written for kids, and if we consider Carroll a child, the book is equally—though I argue more so—for adults, because no matter how he tries to escape it, Carroll is also an adult, and the book fairly drips with his catharsis.

  3. Right. I agree that it is for both. And maybe as you seem to be hinting at, adults trying to rediscover childhood.

    On the dream thing, I think that I failed to make myself clear. Wonderland is clearly NOT a dream. What I meant is that there are dreamlike elements to it.

  4. Clarified!

    In case you can't tell, I love this book. I've read it so many times, and this "realization" of Carroll's literal presence is the most recent, and, for me, the most exciting.

    Hope you can bear with me!

  5. I can tell. I thought that I was about to be burned for heresy.

  6. Sorry -- definitely didn't mean for it to come across that way. :)


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